All Around Jamaica…Day 14 – March/April 2003

Day Fourteen, Tuesday (Treasure Beach/Black River)

We were supposed to get to Dennis at the fisherman’s beach at nine but we overslept a little. When we saw Dennis cruise by Mar Blue on his boat waving, we figured it was time to head over :). We walked over, hopped in his boat and headed out to sea. The boat is locally called a canoe because it has that sort of shape I guess, but Dennis has a powerful motor and seat cushions, life vests for kids and non-swimmers, lots of extras – it was very comfortable.

We passed all of TB, then Fort Charles, where Dennis pointed out new electric lines that are allowing development there. Fortunately (Dennis’ words) the development is taking the form of private homes and villas, not mega-resorts. Mega-resorts in TB…that will be a sad day indeed, but luckily one that most residents will fight tooth and nail. They like their peaceful, drug-dealer and crime-free paradise and have seen what has happened to the north coast and do not want a repeat in their part of Jamaica. Bravo.

We were about 10 minutes into our trip when we saw our first dolphins. There were 2 that we could see and they swam along with the boat for quite awhile. I was really impressed to be so close to them. This has to blow away the captive-dolphin experience at Dolphin Cove in Ochi, even if we didn’t jump in and swim with them…at least they’re free and happy.

Dennis, like most Jamaicans seem to, has a cell phone. It rang. Seems another couple was heading to the river but their boatman’s motor quit and they were stuck. We offered to share our trip, no problem. We turned and headed back to the Calabash fishing co-op and rested there awhile as yet another phone call came in, this from Jason Henzell, owner of Jake’s and cheerleader-in-charge for community tourism in Treasure Beach. He had another couple that hoped to go up the river today. “The more the merrier”, we told Dennis, so waited a few more minutes for the other couple.

Now with 6 of us plus Dennis and his helper, we head back out on the open sea towards Black River. The other couples are very nice, one quite young and one a bit older. Everyone is cool, though, and we laugh as we bump up and down on the waves. Occasionally Dennis slows down to point out a sight or explain something about what we are passing but pretty soon Black River’s bay comes into view and the water calms noticeably. We chug in and head up the river. At the mouth of the river there are a lot of boats at the docks, loading tourists. Most get on pontoon boats – nice party sort of boat that holds maybe 20 people. A few get on fishing boats like ours. The difference between the two will be apparent in a bit.

As we head up, the river gives way to open morass (swamp or wetland, in the US) and the views are stunning. There is absolutely no way to see this without getting on a boat, we are surrounded by water, reeds, mangroves and far off, mountains. We see some sea birds nesting along the edge of the water and before too long, Dennis slows down and pulls over to an edge of the river. There, relaxing in the sun, is Jamaican crocodile number 1. This is the “safari” aspect of the trip, what most people head up the river to see. It was pretty cool, we were able to get quite close.

We saw several more and pretty soon, we came to a low bridge. This is where the pontoon boats have to turn around, they can’t go any further as they don’t fit under the bridge. Our group, however, merely duck our heads and we’re heading up into the country, with a lot less boat traffic now. “See ya suckers”, I recall saying to myself with an evil smile :). I have friends who have been here before and so knew to get a fishing boat and not a pontoon tour boat. (If you book a Black River trip through a tour company or hotel, you will almost certainly be on a pontoon boat so beware).

After a bit, Dennis pulls over to a dock on the river and we hop out for a drink at a little hut. We haven’t seen a croc lately and Dennis says in 20 years he’s never seen one in this area, this is a swim stop. Okaaaayyyy….I’m pretty hot by now and ready to swim and when I see a couple of area residents swimming, I say to heck with it and go in too. The Black River is called what it is because there is peat at the bottom that makes the water appear black. The water itself is beautiful – cool, crystal clear, refreshing. Some of the others on the boat aren’t too sure about a swim but once Dennis, P and I are all in, a few people swing off a rope swing set up on a tree and after a few minutes, we’re all in the water splashing, laughing, making crocodile jokes. And getting hungry.

Dennis asked us earlier if we’d like to eat crab on the river or at Pelican Bar on the way back…we opted for the crab and a drink at Pelican. So pretty soon we head downriver a bit and pull off at a crab shack. We settle ourselves and order – crab is what’s on the menu, and drinks. The crabs are fairly small but the restaurant cleans then, adds spices and stuffs the crabmeat back in the shell so it’s very easy to eat, fresh and delicious. An order is two crabs ($100J – $2US) and we eat a couple of orders each. Luckily P’s dislike of fish doesn’t extend to those that have shells so we’re all happy.

Full and cooled off, we head back towards the sea. Coming out of the river we turn towards our next stop, Pelican Bar. This place is amazing, less than a year old when we were there. There is a sandbar out in the bay at Black River where the water is only a foot or so deep. On this sandbar an enterprising businessman has built a bar on stilts – the whole thing made of bamboo. You cannot get here by land, you must arrive by boat. Dennis had called ahead on that handy cell phone so we were met by the owner and he had plenty of cold drinks for us. He could have cooked too but since we’d had the crab we were full. Some of the group snorkeled a little, some sunbathed, others headed for the shade of the bar and relaxed inside. I wish I could have spent longer there, what a setting.

Finally we are ready to head back. Returning to TB from Black River puts us against the current, or wind or something, because the ride back is BOUNCY. I love riding waves in boats so thought it was a lot of fun, older people might not enjoy the bouncing as much. Still, compared to ocean water on the US east coast, this was nothing. We bounced and smiled and laughed for about 20 minutes and Dennis began dropping us all off at one of the 4 fishing beaches in TB. We got off at Calabash and walked the 30 feet or so to Mar Blue and jumped in the pool. I love having a pool for just this sort of occasion.

It’s about 3PM now, naptime, we decide. It’s hard to take a nap today since it’s our last day but I haven’t looked at a watch or calendar for 2 weeks and I’m not about to start now when I really don’t want to know what either one says. So we nap.

We intended to go to Jake’s for sunset, this is a ritual of sorts in TB, but we were tired enough to sleep until about 8. At 8 we did head over to Jake’s to eat. The meal was fine – nothing like what we’d had at Mar Blue the night before though, we’re spoiled now. The rain let up after dinner so we could walk around and get an idea of what Jake’s looks like (in the dark). It’s set on cliffs, not unlike the west end of Negril, and everything is very artsy and funky. I’d not stay there, I don’t think, as the cottages are pretty pricey for the amenities provided, but it’s a fun place to hang out for awhile. The people there seemed to be a mix of US tourists, locals, and Europeans, interesting people to sit at a bar with for sure.

Heading back to Mar Blue, we enjoy a couple of glasses of wine with Axel, Andrea and Andrea’s sister (who is also leaving tomorrow), then collapse into that really cozy bed in our room. Next time we come to TB we will stay a LOT longer, there was so much more to see that we didn’t get to.